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Against Miami, time to throw caution, passes to the wind

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens have been very conservative in their handling of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. It has been a slow and gradual process, with the Ravens limiting Flacco's opportunities to throw downfield.

But that might change during the next two weeks, beginning Sunday when the Ravens (2-3) travel to Miami, because the Dolphins (2-3) have the 29th-ranked pass defense in the NFL.

The Ravens aren't going to turn Flacco loose and become the Indianapolis Colts, but this is a perfect time to take some chances.

Why not?

Everybody else throws on the Dolphins, who are allowing 239 passing yards a game, so why not the kid?

"We're close, but we're just not finishing," tight end Todd Heap said about the Ravens' offense. "We're not getting those explosive plays. We're not executing well enough to make those big plays happen."

The Ravens have had limited opportunities because Flacco is a work in progress. Most of his passes have been safe, high-percentage tosses such as outs, curls and hitches to the outside of the field.

Flacco hasn't been asked to throw into tight windows in the middle much, especially inside the opponents' 20-yard line. But there have been times when long passing plays were available and Flacco failed to make the connections because he didn't look off safeties.

Twice, the Ravens had opportunities for big gains against the Colts last week, but Flacco never saw the open receivers. It's all part of the learning curve. Many young quarterbacks focus only on one half of the field and aren't comfortable enough to look off safeties and survey the entire field.

"You've just got to keep the confidence up," Flacco said. "Obviously, things haven't been going the way we wanted them to necessarily, but we feel like we're right there. We feel like we're going to be there sooner than later.

"We've got to ... make sure everybody knows they're going to be involved," he said. "And if everybody just goes out there with the mind-set that we've got to be better from what we did last week and we've got to continue to improve, then we're eventually going to get there."

Flacco has struggled the past two weeks, throwing five interceptions. Veterans such as Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason keep pumping Flacco with confidence, pointing out how Peyton Manning and younger brother Eli have struggled at times this season.

But the ultimate confidence boost comes from performance, and Flacco might get some opportunities Sunday.

Opposing teams have picked on the Dolphins' Andre Goodman, a seventh-year cornerback out of South Carolina. They've also singled out Miami safety Yeremiah Bell.

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the Dolphins' head coach last season, knows Miami's personnel well, so this might be the 2008 breakout game for Heap, speedy wide receiver Demetrius Williams or fellow wide-out Mark Clayton.

Eventually, though, the Ravens know they have to get a vertical game. Flacco has completed 90 of 144 passes for 844 yards but is averaging only 9.4 yards a completion.

Last week in the Ravens' 31-3 loss to Indianapolis, the Colts put nine players around the line of scrimmage to shut down the Ravens' running game, and they dared the Ravens to beat them on Flacco's arm.

Then once the Ravens fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter, the Colts went to two-deep coverage to cut off long passes.

The key for the Ravens will be trying to get a lead and establish the run. If they can maintain some balance between the running and passing games, they'll probably win and Flacco will get some opportunities to go downfield.

Flacco should also get more opportunities Oct. 26 against the Oakland Raiders, who are tied for No. 25 in pass defense. This could be a great time for the young quarterback to take another step. It's an area in which he and the team need improvement, especially if the Ravens ever want to go deep into the playoffs.

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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